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Finding yourSelf

Written by d fine

Parshas Vayelech; Successor to the Crown If you yawn during the leining of Vayelech you might miss an entire aliyah! However, despite its meagre thirty psukim, there is much to be gleaned from our parsha.. In fact, the final two miztvos of the Torah are mentioned in our sedra.

[1] The parsha deals with Moshe’s activities before his death, centring around safeguarding the future of klal yisrael. Moshe prepares Yehoshua the next leader, gives the mitzvah to gather as a people after the Shmittah, and is taught a special shirah to give over to the people for times of trouble. This is an important message in itself; that which occupies Moshe Rabeinu before his death is worrying for others. Just as the start of his leadership ‘career’ was the looking out for his fellow Jews (our introduction to Moshe’s character in the Torah is him stopping the Egyptian hitting a Jew), so too is this prevalent at the end of his ‘career.’ We are going to focus on Moshe ‘prepping’ Yehoshua for leading klal yisrael, or, more specifically, on the character of Yehoshua in general. Each leader of klal yisrael has their defining characteristic. For example, Avraham Avinu’s was chesed, Yitzchak Avinu’s gevurah, Ya’akov Avinu’s tiferes/Torah. What is the defining characteristic of Yehoshua and why was Yehoshua chosen as the one to succeed Moshe Rabeinu? The gemarra

[2] says that people of the generation of Moshe and Yehoshua would say that Moshe’s face shone like the Sun, and Yehoshua’s like the moon. What does this mean? The job of the moon is to reflect the light of the Sun. So too, Yehoshua’s defining characteristic is that he is a reflection of his teacher, Moshe Rabeinu. Thus, Yehoshua is described in the Torah as ‘the helper/server of Moshe,’

[3] and he echoes Moshe’s humility in wanting to punish those who were prophesising that he would take over from Moshe and lead the Jews into Eretz Yisrael.

[4] Moreover, both Moshe and Yehoshua are described as ‘servants of HaShem.

’[5] Additionally, the gemarra

[6] says that Yehoshua did not need to prefix his divrei torah by saying ‘this is what Moshe told me,’ since everyone knew that it came from Moshe. In fact, the presents that they gave to Bnei Yisrael show this point; Moshe gave us the Torah, and Yehoshua gave us Eretz Yisrael; the Land that reflects the Torah. It is in this vein that you will find many similarities between the lives of Moshe and Yehoshua. Moshe splits the Red Sea, Yehoshua splits the Jordan River. Moshe makes the korban pesach with bnei yisrael in Egypt, and Yehoshua makes the next Pesach offering in Gilgal. Moshe headed the first national bris milah before the Pesach offering in Egypt, and Yehoshua oversees the next one in Gilgal. In fact, both married converts (Tzipporah and Rachav respectively) too. Now with all this in mind, we can see a new way to understand a well-known midrash The midrash

[7] says that the reason Yehoshua was chosen to lead the people was because he used to set up the benches in the study hall in the desert for Moshe to come in and teach Torah. Many people did beautiful mitzvos of chesed during the desert period; why did this one merit the leadership? Based on the above, we can suggest that Joshua setting up the chairs, apart from being a mitzvah, showed that he was the one to facilitate Moshe’s actions – to continue doing things when Moshe was not there (after the Torah study had ended), and thus he merited to continue as leader as the Jewish people after Moshe. He was the moon and Moshe the sun. In short, we have said that the defining characteristic of Yehoshua was that he reflected his teacher, Moshe Rabeinu, and that this led to him being selected as the next leader. After all, the original and ideal plan was that Moshe Rabeinu would lead us into Eretz Yisrael, but he sinned with the rock, and so it is fitting that someone as close to who Moshe was as possible should lead us into the Land in his stead. The message for us is an important one. Often, we feel that we want to ‘be ourselves’ and have our own expression in the world, and we often take this too far. One example is that we can be resistant to following someone else’s good examples, even though we know that this other person is a person of truth and has good qualities which should be emulated, because we are afraid of losing ‘us’ if we took on something from someone else. We should learn from Yehoshua’s willingness to learn from Moshe Rabeinu and reflect him to be able to open ourselves up a little and learn good things from others. Whilst it is true that individuality and uniqueness is commendable, and indeed, is a characteristic given to each person

[8], it is supposed to be used for the good and not as a means of blocking out positive influences. In fact, on a deeper level, copying and internalising the good qualities of someone else does not constitute ‘losing’ your self, but on the contrary, entails finding themselves. There was one secular town in Israel where Chabad were doing especially well, and the community was really turning around to adopting Torah and mitzvos. They were so successful, that Coca Cola actually approached Chabad and asked them the secret of their success – how could they use it in their marketing to convince people to drink Coke the way that Chabad had been so successful with mitzvos? Coca Cola received the following answer from Chabad; ‘we have a helping hand in that the people we reach out to already have a care and appreciation for Torah deep inside them – we just try to bring that out. You are trying to impose on them something (Coke) that they do not have an innate internal connection to, and so you have a greater challenge.’ The point is a fundamental one. Rav Dessler terms the true essence of a person the ‘ani.’ This ‘ani’ is the character that HaShem created you to be, and the individual reflection of Him in this world. This means that innately and internally, we are good people who want to do good, it is just the yetzer hara, sin, and bad influences that disconnect us from who we really are, and we stop connecting to Torah and mitzvos. A friend of mine said that one can see this innate goodness in each person in everyday life. When someone looks at a baby, there is a natural, positive kindness that the ‘viewer’ displays – this is not fake, but the true internal kindness of a person being revealed. Crucially, it should give us encouragement to realise that when we strive to grow religiously, we already have all the tools, capabilities, and good middos stored inside of us – we are just trying to tap back into that. The point is expressed particularly well in the Rambam

[9]. The Rambam is dealing with the cases where the beis din could physically force someone to divorce their wife and give her a get, and asks how this fits with the principle that a get must be given with the will of the husband; if he is only consenting because he is being hit, this is not really a get given with his will? The Rambam answers that deep down this person wants to do the right thing, it is just his yetzer hara that is temporarily blocking him from doing this. This yetzer hara, in turn, is hit away and temporarily ignored due to the beating, and the man is thus really expressing his true self and wish when he says ‘I want to give my wife this get.’ Therefore, copying someone else’s good middos, etc. is not losing yourself, but is actually finding your true self in terms of who you were created to be. On the contrary, allowing negative external influences to influence you is losing your true self. Perhaps this is a deeper explanation to the halacha in the Shulchan Aruch

[10] that during these ten days of repentance we are to be careful not to eat non-Jewish bread. Perhaps the idea is that in these ten days where we look to return to our true selves the way HaShem created us, we are to stop ingesting the negative external influences (here represented by non-Jewish bread) which made us veer off course and away from our true ‘ani’ to begin with. Have a great Shabbes,

[1] The mitzvos of hakhel (a giant national gathering after Shmittah to hear leining in the Beis HaMikdash) and of writing a sefer Torah.

[2] Bava Basra 75a, 7 lines from the bottom

[3] Shemos 24;13, Bamidbar 11;28

[4] Rashi quoting the Midrash Sifre, Bamidbar 11;28

[5] Devarim 34;5 and Yehoshua 24;29 respectively.

[6] Yevamos 96b

[7] Bamidbar Rabbah 21:14

[8] See Mishna Sanhedrin 37a

[9] Yad HaChazakah, Hilchos Geirushin 2;20

[10] Orach Chaim 603

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